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Douyin, a short-video app with editing capabilities, has quickly become the go-to app for China’s post-’95 generation. Photo: Handout

Short video app Douyin taps Alibaba platforms in social e-commerce push


Douyin, the go-to short video site for China’s Generation Z, is moving to profit from its widely popular app by integrating external online shopping links from the country’s largest e-commerce site into its platform.

The video social platform also known as Tik Tok and operated by Beijing ByteDance Technology, the parent of popular news app Toutiao, is giving its young users direct access to online shopping while they watch fun, entertaining videos.

A shopping cart logo can now be seen on the Douyin user interface of certain content publishers with a fan base of more than 1 million. The shopping links allow followers of these publishers to buy goods ranging from cosmetics and food to stationery supplies on Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao and Tmall platforms.

ByteDance declined to comment on Douyin’s move into social e-commerce, while South China Morning Post owner Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It is still unknown whether Douyin will allow more third party merchants to tap into its 100 million users.

The move to embrace Alibaba’s online merchants is seen as a major milestone for Douyin’s commercialisation efforts and could prove strong competition for Tencent Holdings, which is also counting on the rapid growth in China’s short video market to further monetise its presence in social media. There were nearly 250 million Chinese watching short videos at the end of 2017 and the market is projected to be worth 30 billion yuan((US$4.78 billion) by 2020, according to iResearch.

“Short video has become a powerful force in China’s social scene by providing 15 second entertainment to grab mobile users’ attention. It can be strong weapon for e-commerce, especially for Alibaba and Tencent, which want to reach to younger consumers and those living in smaller cities,” said Lu Zhenwang, chief executive at Shanghai-based Wanqing Consultancy, which advises internet companies in China on strategy.


Alibaba has already equipped its e-commerce sites with live streaming features, allowing online merchants to display their wares in real-time to customers. As a popular social magnet, Douyin is expected to help Alibaba in online sales in a way the e-commerce giant could not achieve itself, according to Lu.

Douyin provides users with editing tools that can add music and special effects to short videos. Photo: Handout
Similar to the American social video app – which ByteDance acquired at the end of last year – Douyin provides users with editing tools that can add music and special effects to short videos, but its popularity among young Chinese internet users has attracted the attention of existing social media players like WeChat, a service that is operated by Tencent.

Launched in September 2016, ranked No 1 in monthly active users among China’s short video sites in February, followed by Tencent-backed Kuaishou, according to App Annie.

The app has already shown its potential in marketing to Generation Z – the generation born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Brands, frustrated by the high cost and increasing difficulty to reach a young audience on established platforms such as Sina Weibo and WeChat, have been eager to experiment with Douyin. Chevrolet, Airbnb and Pizza Hut have already worked with the app for advertising and marketing campaigns.